Feb. 28, 2013
The kid that grew up in Nebraska wearing North Carolina blue soccer shorts is going to finish her NC State career as one of the most popular players in Wolfpack women's basketball history.
Marissa Kastanek has been at the forefront of the Wolfpack women's program ever since she started the opening game of her freshman season in November 2009. She in fact scored the first bucket of that season, and later in the game, would make the first two three-pointers of her career, solidifying a win in Coach Kellie Harper's debut at NC State.
Even before that first game Harper knew she had an extraordinary person on her team for the next four years.
"I knew she was a special kid the first time I met her," said Harper. "You just can't hind that. When we got her in practice you knew she was a special basketball player, because she worked so hard and she's fearless.”
Kastanek played one of her finest games this season in a victory at Georgia Tech in late January. That afternoon she connected for 24 points to go over 1,500 career points in her career, joining an exclusive club that includes only 15 members in program history. She begins her final home game tonight only 10 points from 1,600.
A shade under 50 percent of her points have come from beyond the three-point line, but it wasn't until she got to Raleigh that her accuracy from downtown become what defined her as a player.
"I don't think I would label myself strictly a three-point shooter, but its something that at the beginning of my career I may have been better at than some of my teammates, so it became my job," said Kastanek.
Her best guess is she has taken over 5,000 shots beyond the arc inside Reynolds Coliseum. Kastanek will make 50 or more after practice on most days. All that practice will likely land her second in program history with a number approaching 250 three-pointers.
"I've learned that if you can knock down the three, other things open up for you,” added Kastanek. “Once you get the hang of the three-point line they have to be honest and guard you up close so you have more options to curl, get layups or jump shots."
Better student or better athlete?
Kastanek is going to finish her basketball career ranked among the best 20 shooters in Atlantic Coast Conference history, not only from beyond the arc, but also from the free throw line.
Yet you can make a strong argument that she is a better student that she is a basketball player. Kastanek began her senior year first in her class of 5,567 students with a perfect grade point average of 4.0. She is a member of so many honor societies she can't even keep track of them all.
For the record, she holds membership cards at Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Beta Kappa, Gamma Beta Phi and Psi Chi.
Through her laundry list of accolades, there is one award that stands out above all others: The Kay Yow ACC women's basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year award given to her at the 2012 ACC Tournament.
"I think that was a big thing because it encompasses my academics and my athletics," said Kastanek. "That is something that is pretty powerful. And because it's named after Coach Yow, that award means a lot to me."
She also mentioned one other that stood out.
"At the same time the (ACC) Freshman of the Year award meant a lot to me as well. To have played so well as a rookie was something I never thought I could do."
Trading in blue soccer shorts for red basketball shorts
Kastanek professes to probably being the biggest North Carolina fan in the state of Nebraska growing up on a farm in the small town of Crete.
"My closet was filled with blue everything. I wanted to play soccer for Carolina," she said.
Basketball recruiting letters began to arrive in middle school. She received her first letter from Buffalo in the seventh grade, and two years later received her first scholarship offer from Drake. That was around the time the dream of being the next Mia Hamm was coming to a close.
"I decided it was time to concentrate on basketball," said Kastanek, who also won a state title in the 800 meters as a sophomore in high school.
Once fully committed to the sport, Kastanek flourished, splitting time between two schools - first Crete as a freshman and sophomore, and later Lincoln Southeast her final two years. Coaches from the Big Ten and Big 12 showed great interest in the 5'9 shooter, but it was her intention all along to play in the ACC.
Thankfully for the Wolfpack, she chose hoops and red over blue.
"My college experience has been so amazing with in all the stuff I have been able to do," she said. "I got my study abroad trip in. I got to play for Team USA.
"I never thought I would have the opportunity to go to Costa Rica with my schedule. I was able to do a lot of community service as well."
An Unmatched Work Ethic
"She wants to be successful at everything she does. A very dedicated, very determined young woman that is going to find a way to be successful."
Those are the words of her head coach when asked about Kastanek's work ethic.
Kastanek points to her parents as the reason she plays every game like it’s her last.
"They always wanted me to be better than I was. They were always proud of me but always knew I could do more. My mom and dad would never force me to do anything, but they taught me how to want to do more.
"Putting your boots on and going to work has really shaped my work ethic."
Serving Her Community
Kastanek will spend two days a week in her final semester at NC State with Camp Pack, a leadership mentoring program at AB Combs Leadership Magnet Elementary School.
"I never thought I would be able to make a difference in so many kids’ lives. To actually make an impact on individual lives is pretty cool."
The college students bring a new activity each week and try to instill good habits to the youngsters. For instance, Kastanek took part in a walk-to-school program to promote fitness.
Kastanek is also a regular speaker and volunteer at other local elementary and middle schools.
"I spoke at Clayton Middle School's athletic banquet last year and talked about leadership, schoolwork, practice and how to be a Division I athlete," said Kastanek.
She has also spent time promoting fitness weeks, read-a-thon's and has participated in pep rallies that coincide with her speaking engagements.
Defining A Legacy
Despite all the individual accomplishment's she has enjoyed, Kastanek is and always has been about the team. She was very vocal at the beginning of this season about getting this team back to the NCAA Tournament. She is currently the only player on the Wolfpack roster to have reached that goal.
"I'm a hard worker that would do anything for my teammates because that is something that has been important to me throughout my career," Kastanek said.
Always a fan favorite to the Wolfpack masses that gather at Reynolds Coliseum, Kastanek enjoys taking time after the game to take pictures and sign autographs.
"I think it’s really cool to see the little kids that look up to me after the games. They really make this fun for our program."
Kastanek simply states this is how she would like people to remember her time at NC State.
"I did a lot of good stuff on the court, but at the same time I was a decent human being off the court."
The Next Chapter
After May graduation that will see her grab a degree in psychology with minors in coaching, Spanish and sports science, it’s on to the next chapter of her life.
"I want to play professionally, whether it’s in the WNBA or overseas," said Kastanek. "I'm working with the coaches and [video coordinator] Jason Rasnake to put together a YouTube site. I’m just being proactive to get stuff out there.
"I want to go to grad school, but not right away. Then if for some reason professional ball doesn't work out, I have that in my back pocket."
Kastanek will be featured in a Senior Night ceremony before tip-off Thursday when the Wolfpack hosts Virginia at 7 p.m.